This series is about bringing attention to the guys doing the work behind the scenes, the ones not getting credit in the 30-second highlight-reel montages we watch all throughout the week. "Beating the Box Score" illustrates how big plays happen and gives credit to the guys making it happen, even if it's away from the ball and not shown in a box score.
Heading into last week's game between the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals one of the biggest story lines was the Bears starting two rookies on the right side of their offensive line. Right tackle Jordan Mills was a fifth-round pick out of Louisiana Tech, and right guard Kyle Long was the team's first-round pick out of Oregon.
The Bears offensive line issues over the years have been widely documented, and whether it was play-calling (consistently calling for seven-step drops when there's no time) or the personnel, new head coach Marc Trestman rolled the dice when he entrusted two rookies to protect their biggest investment and key to success, quarterback Jay Cutler.
The opponent shouldn't have mattered when deciding whether or not starting two rookies was the right decision for Trestman. But taking on the Bengals, a team that finished third in the NFL in sacks last season with 51, was going to be a tough test for whoever was starting.
Mills and Long didn't play flawless football against the Bengals, but when it mattered most, and they were entrusted to play above their experience, they both stepped up and held their own.
The two plays illustrated below are from the Bears fourth-quarter drive that culminated in Jay Cutler's 19-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall, which gave the Bears the 24-21 lead and eventual victory.
Cutler and Marshall will get the headlines, interviews, highlight reels and fantasy football chatter. But upon further examination of actual football, Mills and Long deserve the respect and notoriety.
It's 3rd-and-3 from their own 26-yard line midway through the fourth quarter.
The Bears are passing and everyone knows it.
Defensive tackle Wallace Gilberry (No. 95) is lined up in the 1-technique with Carlos Dunlap (No. 96) lined up in the 7-technique.
Dunlap is going to try and beat Mills around the edge, while Gilberry tries to go across the face of the center.
Mills does a good job of getting his hands on Dunlap initially, not letting the defensive player initiate the contact. He locks arms and mirrors him up the field, showing good lateral movement.
Long has tremendous upper-body strength, which is shown in both of the plays in this article. But as you can see from his feet, he can't properly position his lower half until the center peels off to help with the left guard working on Geno Atkins.
Here you can see that Mills has good balance and is mid slide-step with good upper body positioning. Long has locked up with Gilberry and is in a perfectly balanced position.
As Cutler releases the ball you can see that—because of his balance mirroring Dunlap up the field, as well as his upper-body positioning on the last picture—Mills can take the brunt of the force from Dunlap coming forward with the weight and pressure going onto his right foot/leg without issue.
Mills wasn't falling back into Cutler as the quarterback threw the ball.
Gilberry didn't stand much chance once Long got his hands on him.
This play went for 38 yards from Cutler to Marshall, giving the Bears the ball in Bengals territory trailing 21-17 in the fourth quarter.
The next play was the game-winner from Cutler to Marshall.
Dunlap is lined up in the 8-technique, head up on the tight end Martellus Bennett, and second-year defensive lineman Devon Still (No. 75) is lined up in the 3-technique. Those are the two guys Mills and Long are responsible for.
The Bengals are bringing pressure off the edge as James Harrison (No. 92) is coming off the edge on the left side.
As Bennett goes down the field Mills kicks out to take Dunlap, Long initiates contact with Still and they both have good balance with their feet.
Long is in good position with his lower body, while Mills gets a little upright.
But he's got the fullback coming around to help cut off the edge, and luckily Dunlap hadn't gotten into his body. At this point, Cutler knows the blitz is coming and that all of the attackers are accounted for.
The next two shots in succession display fantastic upper-body strength from both Mills and Long.
Cutler is delivering what turns out to be the game-winning touchdown pass.
Long has his body in position to stand up the defensive end, Still. Dunlap is trying to cut back inside and Mills has his arms and legs in good position to drive forward.
When you look at these two pictures and the body positioning of both offensive and defensive players in each, that's physical strength and domination by Mills and Long. Long completely stands Still up as he locks his legs out, Mills drives forward off his right leg and turns Dunlap around while driving him back and getting him off balance.
These things happen in just milliseconds out on the field and they're hard to see when watching it live, but if you want to know the visual definition of "beating your guy" that isn't the prototypical flat-back or pancake, here's your definition.
So as you flip on the television and see the praise and notoriety heading Cutler's and Marshall's way—which isn't a knock on either of them because they were making plays—understand that some of that love should be flowing towards the two rookies on the right side of the Bears offensive line.
Mills and Long beat the box score this week.
The Bengals finished the game with no sacks and just four quarterback hits, but you won't see the names of the players responsible for those fantastic numbers.
Mills and Long didn't play like rookies, and the Bears likely won the game because of it.